Media, politics and culture.
Glad to see that The Guardian, the Associated Press and three Missouri newspapers—in the wake of the recent botched execution in Oklahoma—are launching a “landmark” suit to end secrecy on death penalty protocols.
Here’s the Guardian story with link to valuable and key graphic adds. See list of states (such as Texas) with most executions and how they “hide” source of chemicals and more. For Texas: “The Texas attorney general’s office has previously indicated that such information should be available to the public, but the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has not complied with open-records requests seeking drug details.”
The suit—read the paper work here—“calls on state judges to intervene to put a stop to the creeping secrecy that has taken hold in the state in common with many other death penalty jurisdictions.” More:
The lawsuit argues that under the first amendment of the US constitution the public has a right of access to know “the type, quality and source of drugs used by a state to execute an individual in the name of the people”
It is believed to be the first time that the first amendment right of access has been used to challenge secrecy in the application of the death penalty.
Deborah Denno, an expert in execution methods at Fordham University law school in New York, said that more and more states were turning to secrecy as a way of hiding basic flaws in their procedures. “If states were doing things properly they wouldn’t have a problem releasing information—they are imposing a veil of secrecy to hide incompetence.”
My recent book vs. the death penalty with history and current debate.
Read Next: Greg Mitchell: “BagNews Compiles Shocking Visual Evidence of Cecily McMillan Injustice.”
As often the case, Michael Shaw’s BagNewsNotes has posted an extensive, illuminating, not to mention shocking, compilation and analysis of visual evidence concerning a hot-button recent or historical event.
In this case it’s related to the recent trial, conviction and brutal sentencing of Occupy activist Cecily McMillan, which has been covered widely here at The Nation in past days. No need to rehash the New York City episode—the BagNews posting goes through it step by step, in the most revealing and coherent visual way yet, using a variety of videos and photos.
From Shaw’s intro:
As much as the issue in the courtroom was censorship, the problem with the enormous amount of imagery outside of it suggested that, sometimes at least, the more eyes we put on something, the less we can see. What is curious about Cecily McMillan’s ordeal—her sentencing scheduled for Monday—is that, in spite of the mountain of critical fragments that were captured and published, it never came together as a significant whole—the visuals failing to focus the public mind around a smoking gun.
Mindful of the gaps, what we’ve tried to do—working with photo and video journalist, Zach D. Roberts, who has spent a great deal of time documenting Occupy Wall Street and who was using multiple cameras the night of M17 –is a break down the critical events into four chronological “chapters” to try and get closer to that whole.
Go there now to see the visual evidence in four separate “chapters.”
Also: When I was covering Occupy here every day over its first six months of prominence, I often referred to or posted the photos of Annie Appel, who was documenting the movement in wonderful black and white portraits, starting in LA and then other cities. She now has a Kickstarter campaign for a hoped-for book that includes text by Carne Ross and Chris Hedges. Check it out.
It’s not exactly news that Bill Keller, as executive editor of The New York Times, acted cowardly and disgracefully in 2004 in spiking James Risen’s pre-Snowden bombshell on Bush administration/NSA warrantless spying on Americans. Some have claimed this cost John Kerry the election that fall, but I’ve always concentrated on the journalistic cowardice and public right to know.
In any case: It was great to see Frontline in part one of its epic program that traces NSA snooping since 2001—and a squirrely Bill Keller himself in brief quotes from interviews—reveal fully what a hapless and easily cowed coward Keller was on spiking that Risen scoop (after White House pleas). And then clearly show how he only published it, more than a year later, when Risen insisted on exposing it in a book.
Risen calls this a “massive game of chicken” in the show. But it was Keller who was the real chicken, or turkey, if you wish. I was quoted about this by NPR back in 2005. And the Times public editor at the time blasted Keller, as I relate in my piece here.
Also, the show reminded us that Edward Snowden refused to go to Keller’s paper with his scoops due to the Times’s handling of the Risen material.
I’ll refer you here to a post last year by Marcy Wheeler, aka “Empty Wheel.” It was sparked by a debate between Keller and Glenn Greenwald over the US media’s frequently caving to government demands to hold or kill stories of national interest. Greenwald, for one thing, told Keller:
As for taking into account dangers posed to innocent life before publishing: nobody disputes that journalists should do this. But I don’t give added weight to the lives of innocent Americans as compared to the lives of innocent non-Americans, nor would I feel any special fealty to the U.S. government as opposed to other governments when deciding what to publish. When Goldsmith praised the “patriotism” of the American media, he meant that U.S. media outlets give special allegiance to the views and interests of the U.S. government.
Jack Goldsmith, one of key players in the first part of the Frontline special, figures prominently in this.
Here are excerpts from interview with Risen that got cut from the Frontline program.
Read Next: Greg Mitchell: Early Media Response to Glenn Greenwald’s Book—and Fresh Scoops.
Glenn Greenwald’s first book since his Edward Snowden/NSA coverage began (which recently won both a Pulitzer and a Polk Award) is being published today, and the press tour and reviews for No Place to Hide are already underway. One bit of backlash: some claiming to be affiliated with Anonymous are threatening to disrupt Greenwald’s book store talks because of his business relationship with Pierre Omidyar, the PayPal honcho.
I’ll monitor the other reactions today.
For starters, last night The New York Times’s Charlie Savage presented a couple of scoops (or semi-scoops) from the book.
In May 2010, when the United Nations Security Council was weighing sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, several members were undecided about how they would vote. The American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, asked the National Security Agency for help “so that she could develop a strategy,” a leaked agency document shows.
The N.S.A. swiftly went to work, developing the paperwork to obtain legal approval for spying on diplomats from four Security Council members—Bosnia, Gabon, Nigeria and Uganda—whose embassies and missions were not already under surveillance. The following month, 12 members of the 15-seat Security Council voted to approve new sanctions, with Lebanon abstaining and only Brazil and Turkey voting against.
Later that summer, Ms. Rice thanked the agency, saying its intelligence had helped her to know when diplomats from the other permanent representatives—China, England, France and Russia—“were telling the truth…revealed their real position on sanctions…gave us an upper hand in negotiations…and provided information on various countries ‘red lines.’”
Then there’s the Times’s review today, in which Michiko Kakutani hails the NSA/Snowden sections but hits Greenwald for “gross generalizations” about how the media handle such stories. But this Slate review is fully supportive, calling the book “incisive and slashing.”
Greenwald on Democracy Now! today.
GQ out with a Q & A. Here’s one section:
The only reason he’s in Russia is that the U.S. blocked his attempt to go to Ecuador. Russia is planning on extending his visa either for another year or for ﬁve years or maybe even permanently. But it’s an odd situation, because he’s obviously expressed interest in having asylum in other places. We actually created a pretty widespread campaign here for Brazil to give him asylum. I’ve always had an amusing dream: to take a picture of the two of us drinking caipirinhas on Ipanema beach and then uploading it to Instagram, and then tweeting it, and causing this systemic massive-heart-attack syndrome in Fort Meade.
And we wouldn’t want to miss Greenwald getting a heavy grilling on Colbert last night. (Note: Greenwald provided blurbs for my book on Iraq and the media, So Wrong for So Long, and for The Age of WikiLeaks.)
Read Next: Greg Mitchell: “Finally, a Fair Climate Change Debate, Starring John Oliver and Bill Nye.”
We’ve touted John Oliver’s new HBO Sunday night show, but here we go again: He hosted a great climate change “debate” last night—fun but with a serious edge (as with his anti–death penalty segment last week).
So last night he hosted a “debate” between Bill Nye, science guy, and ninety-six others who agree with him, vs. three skeptics (which reflects the reality, not the Fox News version).
In contrast, here is how the level-playing-field debate is usually handled, with Bill Nye vs. S.E. Cupp.
In other late-night TV comedy news: Larry Wilmore, longtime Daily Show “senior black correpsondent” and a star writer, has been picked to take over Stephen Colbert’s time slot at Comedy Central when the great one departs early next year for the Letterman time slot. No, Larry will not portray a blowhard African-American Fox News star because…there aren’t any? But it would be cool if he pronounced the title of his show, The Minority Report, as “The Minority Re-pore.”
Read Next: Climate change deniers continue to ignore that the house is on fire.
Much has been written, here and elsewhere, about executions in American since the botched lethal injection in Oklahoma two weeks ago. Mother Jones published an interesting piece yesterday on the incompetents and ethically challenged individuals who actually oversee or admininster the deadly chemicals. But for background on how this came to be, here’s an excerpt from my recent e-book on the history of, and current debate over, capital punishment in the United States, Dead Reckoning.
* * *
In 1982, Texas prisoner Charles Brooks became the first person executed by a mixture of sodium thiopental, pavulon and potassium chloride—the so-called lethal injection. The dream of an anesthesized execution, proposed by G.W. Peck in 1847, was finally realized, if in a quite different form.
As the death penalty moratorium of the 1970s ended, many states began to pick up the needle. The British had rejected lethal injections in the 1950s feeling it was an undignified way to die—preferring hanging instead. But growing discomfort with the aesthetics of gassing and electrocution promoted a slow changeover in the United States. California governor Ronald Reagan likened lethal injections to putting an injured horse out of his misery—”the horse goes to sleep—that’s it…”
The preference for lethal injection can be explained by its apparent ease, cleanliness and relative lack of drama. It is almost clinical, familiar to anyone who has ever visited a hospital: there are IV lines, gurneys, a doctor, technicians, prescription drugs. Sedation is the word. “They put you out,” a victims’ right advocate in Tennessee explains, “but in this case you never wake up.” A Baptist chaplain in Texas who has witnessed almost forty executions calls it “as humane as any form of death you can find. Basically, they go to sleep….”
The sleep metaphor suggests that the execution is merciful, peaceful, for the prisoner’s own good, as well as society’s—like having compassion for a favorite old dog who has turned rabid. An ACLU leader in Ohio charges that it is an attempt to sanitize or “pretty up” the process, to “make a practice that is absolutely barbaric somehow more palatable to the public.” This has been a historical process, according to Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, DC, “There’s been a keen interest in keeping up with the state of technology,” he explains. “People want execution to look modern and antiseptic.”
After witnessing an execution by needle in Missouri, writer Christopher Hitchens observed that this method “is supposed to be more tranquil and predictable and benign than the various forms of burning, shooting, strangling and gassing that in the past have squeezed themselves through the ‘cruel and unusual’ rubric. It looks and feels—to the outsider at least—more like a banal medical procedure” but “this medicalized ‘putting down’ is designed to leach the drama and agony out of the business; to transform it into a form of therapy for society and ‘closure’…” Indeed, in contrast to electrocution, Hollywood movies climaxing with a lethal injection are rare (Dead Man Walking being a prominent exception).
Whether death by needle is easier for the executed is an open question, but surely it is easier for the executioners. “By wrapping punishment in a therapeutic cloak, the whole process leading to that final moment feels less aversive to those who are required to participate and is therefore more bearable,” observes Dr. Jerome D. Gorman.
There is a deeper issue, as well. “The use of a well-known medical tool, general anesthesia, for execution blurs the distinctions between healing and killing, between illness and guilt,” Gorman observes. “That is why it would be effective in easing the distress of those involved. That is also precisely why physicians should oppose it. Those distinctions between illness and guilt, between therapy and punishment, are important to a just society. Once before in the twentieth century, physicians (in Nazi Germany) allowed themselves to play a role in blurring these distinctions, with disastrous consequences.”
From another point of view, this relative “tranquility” is equally regrettable. “For these people who cause so much suffering, it is too easy of a way out,” a victims’ rights activist complains. The California-based Children’s Protection and Advocacy Coalition charged that lethal injections merely sanitized executions, a misguided form of euthanasia. “Learn to burn,” one member of the group advised the public, adding that “rapists don’t burn by themselves, they need your help.”
In this now familiar procedure, the prisoner is strapped to a gurney and needles inserted in his arms. At a signal, three chemicals begin to flow in succession: an anesthetic (sodium thiopentone), a drug to paralyze the respiratory muscles (pancuronium bromide) and a third drug to halt the heart (potassium chloride).
During the early years of lethal injection, prisons designed their own procedures in a somewhat experimental, haphazard fashion, often leading to glitches. Then, in 1989, Missouri tried out a new lethal-injection system designed by the Holocaust revisionist Fred Leuchter. The execution of George “Tiny” Mercer became the subject of a widely viewed documentary for British television that some found “eerily reminiscent of Nazi nightmares,” as James McGiven put it in his theological survey of the death penalty. Leuchter himself was proud of what happened, calling it “an interesting first, not only for myself and the machine, but also for the state of Missouri, it being the first execution conducted there in many years, it being in Middle America, and it being in the middle of the Bible Belt.”
Still, even with improved delivery systems, mistakes often occur. One prisoner remained conscious, struggling, for about ten minutes, due to a clogged catheter. In another case an IV popped out of an inmate’s arm, spewing deadly chemicals toward the witness box. In Texas, a condemned man had such a violent physical reaction to the drugs—gasping and choking—that one of the witnesses fainted, knocking over another witness. In several cases officials had such a hard time finding a vein, the inmate would lay strapped on his death cot for more than forty minutes, awaiting his doom.
Two years later, in Texas, Joseph Cannon, who was condemned to die when he was only 17, lay on the gurney, repeatedly said he was sorry for what he had done, and then closed his eyes as the chemicals flowed. Then he opened his eyes, turned to a window where the witnesses were standing and said, “It’s come undone.” The drapes were pulled on the window, and a prison chaplain informed the witnesses as they were led outside, “His blood vein blew. He is doing fine. They are just going to restart it.” Fifteen minutes later the witnesses were brought back in, and the execution proceeded. Cannon was pronounced dead thirty-four minutes after the first injection was aborted.
In other cases, a small error in dosage may leave prisoners conscious but paralyzed—seemly peaceful and dead but still slowly dying. Of course, the only person who knows that for sure is not in any position to testify to it. A Texas official complained that attorneys seeking to stop all executions demand “proof” that it is “totally and completely painless. I don’t know how you go about satisfying that. You can never call them [the executed] back and say, ‘Did this cause you pain?’”
It all boils down to: there is no easy way to end a life.
Still, among those most affected—the condemned—lethal injection apparently seems like the best of several bad options. In states where prisoners are given a choice, they almost invariably select the needle. Those who dissent often claim they do so as a form of protest. One convicted killer said he wanted his passing to be “ugly,” in the gas chamber, where he figured it would look like murder. An inmate in Maryland chose the gas chamber for the same reason—but later changed his mind and switched to injection to spare his family needless pain.
Just what the world needs, right, after The Daily Caller and The Blaze and the various Brietbart outlets, not to mention NRO (and I could go on)? But today comes the announcement: On June 3, the Heritage Foundation will launch another conservative website, The Daily Signal, that purportedly will balance or subvert the complete and noxious left-wing control of all reality-based news.
Don’t worry, there will also be an opinion section partly aimed at the kiddies who find Fox and The Wall Street Journal too fuddy-duddy.
Promises by folks behind this operation:
“We came to the realization that the mainstream media had really abdicated the responsibility to do the news and do it well,” says Geoffrey Lysaught, vice president of strategic communications at the Heritage Foundation, who will also serve as publisher…. We plan to do political and policy news,” says Lysaught, “not with a conservative bent, but just true, straight-down-the-middle journalism.”
“You often sense there’s an element of preaching to the choir,” says Katrina Trinko, a well-regarded political reporter lured away from National Review to manage the Signal’s news team. “What appealed to me was that our goal is not just to reach that audience. Obviously, we hope conservatives will come. But we hope anyone interested in information and public debate will see us as a trusted news source.”
“Like Vox and 538, we’re purposely branding ourselves not as a blog but a standalone site,” says Robert Bluey, who directs Heritage’s Center for Media and Public Policy and will be the Signal’s editor-in-chief. But Lysaught is leery of the comparison. “What Ezra [Klein] is doing has got a wild liberal bias to it,” he says. “When we talk about the news, we’re just laying out the facts. We think that’s an important educational mission.”
More of this from Joshua Green at Bloomberg/BusinessWeek, which has a full take today here, although I’m not sure about the headline, “The Tea Party Gets Into the News Business.”
Politico provides a little background, including Heritage’s previous mixed results with Town Hall (which it sold to Salem).
Read Next: Greg Mitchell: “John Oliver, in New ‘Comedy’ Series, Hits the Death Penalty”.
The opening segment on episode two of John Oliver’s new HBO Sunday night news/comedy series featured a lengthy take on the botched execution in Oklahoma, and John (the former Daily Show vet) came out strongly against the death penalty.
Of course, he pointed out that the US is among few nations where capital punishment exists—in fact, we are in the top five along with various repressive states. His native England used to boil inmates alive and they eventually banned executions, so maybe there is hope for us.
Mixed in are some laughs, if you can handle that, and to get viewers to swallow this topic, a promise of cute hamsters. Not sure if I like John’s new Michael Kinsley look, though.
The show is repeated tonight on HBO. My own recent ebook on the death penalty is here.
Read Next: Greg Mitchell: the first film on the Jayson Blair scandal at The New York Times airs tonight.
One of the key stories we covered and uncovered at Editor & Publisher when I was editing the magazine from about 2001 to 2009 was the Jayson Blair fabrication scandal at The New York Times from 2003. Among other things it led to the exit of top editor Howell Raines, who had just directed the paper to a boatload of Pulitzers.
Now I see the first doc on it, A Fragile Trust, is airing tonight on the Independent Lens series on PBS—via Channel 13 in New York and one hopes elsewhere. It includes interviews with Blair, Raines and others involved. Just to take you back: one of his key made-up stories involved the reaction in Jessica Lynch’s hometown to the daring rescue Iraq. In what one might call a “classic” bit of synergy, the coverage of the rescue itself by the Times and other media outlets also partly based on lies coming from US officials and the military. (For more of Blair’s “work”, go here.)
I remember when Jayson sat for an interview with Joe Strupp in my office when he was promoting his quickie book—which was a complete bomb despite wide publicity. For the following month no one would sit in the “Jayson Blair Chair.” It became kind of a gag, but was no laughing matter.
Still, Judy Miller and Michael Gordon deserved a worse fate, and Raines’s bigger sin was the paper’s coverage of the run-up to the Iraq war just a few months before the Blair scandal broke. Here’s a preview of the new film:
Read Next: Greg Mitchell: “Clueless Bush, and Media, Take Bike Ride With Injured Vets on ‘Mission Accomplished Day’.”
The former disgraced President George W. Bush chose today—the eleventh anniversary of his “Mission Accomplished” photo op—to hold a bike ride for sixteen badly wounded (physically or mentally) veterans on his Crawford ranch where he once spent seemingly half his time in office (when he wasn’t starting wars).
I don’t know what’s worse—Bush’s cluelessness and lack of remorse or CNN’s reporting this story without a single word about Bush’s choosing to start a war based on lies. Bush hails the damaged vets for volunteering for military service—but he was the true war “volunteer.” They didn’t sign up for a war based fabrication and revenge and what-have-you.
One of the vets said he’d lost six buddies in Iraq and four others committed suicide after they returned home. Yet Bush called the bike ride a “joyous occasion” and a “festival.”
Here’s an apt comment at my blog Pressing Issues from someone ID’d only as “Mike.”
Just reading the story over at CNN about Bush’s bike ride at his Crawford ranch with sixteen wounded veterans from the George Bush wars. And as I read the story I saw this quote by Bush: “This is a festival, and it is a moment for others to see people who have been severely wounded say ‘I’m overcoming the consequence of my decision to volunteer.’”
I’m overcoming the consequence of my decision to volunteer?? What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Somehow, that strikes me as one of the most clueless, heartless and ignorant statements this man has ever uttered. He simply cannot envision that these people have suffered and died because of him. In his mind, what happened to them was simply the result of THEIR decision to volunteer. Not the fact that he sent them in there knowing it was all based on a lie. This has to be one of the most narcissistic and unaware human beings on the face of the planet. He simply has a way of creating revulsion and disgust every time he opens his mouth.
Of course, media failures related to Bush and the war are nothing new.
Thursday marked the eleventh anniversary of Mission Accomplished Day. Sadly, it came amid more sectarian violence in Iraq—and further attempts at Bush revisionism upon the opening of his “art” show at his library.
In my favorite antiwar song of this war, “Shock and Awe,” Neil Young moans: “Back in the days of Mission Accomplished/ our chief was landing on the deck/ The sun was setting/ behind a golden photo op.” But as Neil added elsewhere in the tune: “History is a cruel judge of overconfidence.”
Nowhere can we see this more clearly than in the media coverage of the event. (Much more in my new e-book.)
On May 1, 2003, Richard Perle advised, in a USA Today op-ed, “Relax, Celebrate Victory.” The same day, President Bush, dressed in a flight suit, landed on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared an end to major military operations in Iraq—with the now-infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner arrayed behind him.
Chris Matthews on MSNBC called Bush a “hero” and boomed, “He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics.” He added: “Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple.”
PBS’ Gwen Ifill said Bush was “part Tom Cruise, part Ronald Reagan.” On NBC, Brian Williams gushed, “The pictures were beautiful. It was quite something to see the first-ever American president on a—on a carrier landing.”
Bob Schieffer on CBS said: “As far as I’m concerned, that was one of the great pictures of all time.” His guest, Joe Klein, responded: “Well, that was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day. That was the first thing that came to mind for me.”
Everyone agreed the Democrats and antiwar critics were now on the run. The New York Times observed, “The Bush administration is planning to withdraw most United States combat forces from Iraq over the next several months and wants to shrink the American military presence to less than two divisions by the fall, senior allied officials said today.”
Maureen Dowd in her column declared: “Out bounded the cocky, rule-breaking, daredevil flyboy, a man navigating the Highway to the Danger Zone, out along the edges where he was born to be, the further on the edge, the hotter the intensity.
“He flashed that famous all-American grin as he swaggered around the deck of the aircraft carrier in his olive flight suit, ejection harness between his legs, helmet tucked under his arm, awestruck crew crowding around. Maverick was back, cooler and hotter than ever, throttling to the max with joystick politics. Compared to Karl Rove’s ‘revvin’ up your engine’ myth-making cinematic style, Jerry Bruckheimer’s movies look like Lizzie McGuire.
“This time Maverick didn’t just nail a few bogeys and do a 4G inverted dive with a MiG-28 at a range of two meters. This time the Top Gun wasted a couple of nasty regimes, and promised this was just the beginning.”
When Bush’s jet landed on the aircraft carrier, American casualties stood at 139 killed and 542 wounded. That was more than 4,300 American, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi, fatalities ago.
Greg Mitchell’s So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits and the President Failed on Iraq (with a preface by Bruce Springsteen) has now been published in an e-book edition.
Read Next: Obama’s new Cold War with Russia goes forward without any public debate.